Comfortably Numb

Chapter one

Delucca's, the bright green neon sign directed hungry patrons to the midtown Manhattan bakery. With its turn of the century exterior and the aroma of fresh baked bread permeating the air for blocks. The building itself has only housed one business. Although the owners have changed it over the last hundred years, the products created have not.

Delucca's was originally built in the early nineteen hundreds by an Italian immigrant of the same name. He and his wife worked tirelessly to build the business and give it a name to be proud of. After their deaths, the business had been handed off to a number of hopeful bakers, each trying to create a name for themselves. Even when the name was changed, the regular customers always called it by the original. So, when Kate and Irina were handed the keys to the front door by their half brothers, the ownership obtained when a bet was lost, the next chapter began.

The building, with its aging brick and chipped mortar, held more than just memories and a paycheck for the lonely brunette who currently walked along the sidewalk. Bella Swan always appreciated the feel of home as she entered the store early each morning. For her, it was the feel of the dough as she kneaded it over and over, losing herself in the mindless task, able to forget, if only briefly, the loneliness she faced at home. It was the sound of the bell over the door alerting her it was time to smile, time to forget everything that haunted her, if only for a moment. In the smiles and gentle kisses she received from her two older bosses, their skin warm and their words genuine, as they greet her each day. With each customer who wished her a pleasant day or paid her a compliment on how wonderful the bread looked that day. She craved it all, like woven threads of an old sweater, the building was made for her.

To any onlooker, Bella appears to be just a typical young woman, a single dot in the masses that made up the vast metropolis of New York City. And she was, to an extent, but to her brother James she was the one constant in his crazy life. Not only was she faithful and dependable, but he would label her as honest and sincere.

With the wind blowing and the cold January snow threatening to fall, her long hair followed in waves that the momentum of her walk created. She was lucky, today the sun was out as she approached her destination—the brick building that housed the warmth she currently craved. The familiar scent of yeast and flour called to her as she opened the more modern door, the original long gone from overuse. The heat hit her across her reddened face, her eyes watery from the cold wind, and the real reason she was coming to work after ten in the morning.

Six months ago, she and James had said goodbye to their ailing mother, Renee. For years she fought a hard battle with lung cancer, even though she'd never smoked a day in her life. On a warm day in July, as the sun had just begun to rise, her mother spoke her final words, "Take care of your brother. Do everything you can to keep him safe."

James was Grandma Swan's favorite, she absolutely worshipped the ground he walked on. It wasn't that she didn't love Bella, as well, it was just in a completely different way. Where Bella was reserved and kept to herself, James was adventurous and popular. Grandma Swan just knew he was going to be someone one day and she was right. James had just signed a three year contract with an NFL team. He was the bright and shinning star in the football world. Upon her death, she left Bella and James a very small amount of money, James used his portion to attend college where Bella was expected to help him with her portion. She always wanted to attend a culinary institute and become a professional baker, but with her promise to her mother, that was a goal that would never be reached. Now he was living on Park Avenue in a penthouse the team paid for, while she remained in their mother's old apartment, where the heat was broken most of the time and the water was usually brown.

Today, she met with her family attorney and finalized the last of her mother's wishes. She was grateful the trust that had been established was enough to cover all the outstanding expenses. Now she could afford to put some money back, maybe afford a better apartment with better conditions. But for now, for now she would remove her coat and gloves, wrap her apron around her waist and do what she loved the most. Knead those loaves of bread.

In the corner of that same bakery as Bella passed by, not really looking at her surroundings, sat two men. Half brothers to the twins, Kate and Irina, whom Bella worked for. Charlie and Carlisle Cullen owned far more than just a small Italian bakery—much, much more.

The brothers and the twins' father, Aro Cullen, was a wealthy man with exotic tastes. He also had issues being faithful to his lovely wife. His affair with a particular Russian maid resulted in the birth of the twins. His wife looked the other way and Aro made the housekeeper disappear. Tanya took the twins in and raised them as her own. She also made certain that Carlisle and Charlie knew they were expected to care for their sisters and, to this day, those orders have been followed to the letter.

The brothers currently ran a large corporation that, for lack of a better term, gave away money. They monitored scholarships and fundraising events, they set up study missions and funded everything. Aro may have been a player, but he was also a mathematical genius. He made money hand over fist and knew when to get out and when to dive in further. He taught his sons well and even after his death, the family name was synonymous with generosity. But there was also dark side to them. Charlie and Carlisle were game players. Not the games you play with dice or use a board for, no they liked to take a situation and bet on the outcome. Their games had no limits and had, on more than one occasion, involved family members.

"I stand behind my statement that given the right circumstances a person will turn against their basic teachings." Carlisle insisted speaking in hushed tones, allowing only his brother to hear his strategy.

Charlie shook his head, "I still say that if a man was brought up in a particular fashion, then that will be carried through until his death." His was voice slightly louder, conviction in his tone.

"So, you're saying that if a Priest comes walking down the street and sees a one hundred dollar bill just lying there, he won't pick it up and pocket it?" Carlisle questioned.

"That is exactly what I'm saying. The priest would ignore the money, he's devoted his life to poverty. By picking up the bill, he's rebuking his teachings." Charlie took a drink from his steaming cup once his response is given.

"Care to make a wager, Brother?"

With an agreement settled, the two men decided that they were going to indeed drop a one hundred dollar bill on the busy New York street and see if anyone brought it back to them. They would make is quite obvious that the money came from one of their pockets and rightfully belonged to them. It was also agreed upon that the very next person to walk in the door would be a test subject. With the cold temperatures outside and the sweet aromas floating around, it didn't take long before the bell over the door sounded.

Shaking off he chill and removing his cell phone from his pocket, a dark haired, tall young man approached the counter. With his attention on the face of the phone and not the men standing around him, the brothers begin their test. Carlisle walked to the counter and ordered a danish and another cup of coffee. Bella's warm smile and pleasant attitude rang his order up and informed him of the total. As planned, he let a folded one hundred dollar bill fall to the wood floor beneath him. The young man noticed the money, took a quick look at Carlisle, judging him, and the designer suit he always wore, and decided to let the money stay on the floor. To both brothers, it looked like the young man was going to ignore the money and just keep looking at his phone. Just as Carlisle turned away and was about to retrieve the money, the young man covered it with his shoe and waited for Bella to get his attention. He ordered his drink and paid with his debit card, all the while holding the money down with his foot. After thanking Bella for the drink, he 'accidentally' dropped the plastic bank card. When he bent down to retrieve it, he easily pulled the money from the underside of his shoe and walked out the door—one hundred dollars richer.

"You see, not an honest man to be had!" Carlisle cheered in victory. Charlie shook his disbelieving head.

He was about to concede when a thought entered his head. "What about the fairer sex, would a woman do the same thing?"

His curiosity getting the better of him, Carlisle agreed to the new game. At the time, the only female in the room was the girl who worked behind the counter. Carlisle knew her name was Bella and that she worked here full time, but nothing beyond that. He rose from his seat and, donning his dress coat and gloves, he began the setup again.

Having come into work so late, left Bella with clean up duty from the early morning rush. She didn't mind, it was mostly wiping down tables and collecting dirty dishes, not much different than it was when James lived with her. With a tune in her head, she continued her task, enjoying the break from the thoughts that plagued her mind. She shivered at the feel of cold air rushing in as the door was opened, letting out one of the men who always had coffee in the bakery in the morning. He was rich, that much was clear by his dress and the money clip he always pulled his bills from when he paid. Bella bid him good day, much like every person who leaves and resumed her cleaning. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a flutter and at first thought it was a piece of trash floating in from the brisk wind outside, but further investigation brought the realization that it was not a piece of ordinary trash, but currency. The regular customer who still had his hand on the edge of the door had to be the rightful owner and was just confused due to the sharpness of the cold. Tossing the wet towel onto the table, she ran over, scooped up the money, and began running down the sidewalk screaming, "Sir!"

However, the man and his friend didn't seem to hear her or maybe the wind that was even stronger once outside, carried the sound away. Bella quickened her steps and all out run in progress. She could feel the wind slapping its coldness onto her cheeks, her arms nearly numb from the biting chill. The two men were now in range and she reached out her arm to touch the one closest to her, calling out to him one more time. "Sir!"

Carlisle wasn't happy to hear the young lady trying to get his attention, where Charlie was smiling in triumph.

"Sir, you dropped this." Bella said breathlessly as she held the money out to him, freezing, yet smiling her best smile.

"Oh, goodness!" Carlisle's mocking voice answered, taking the money and pocketing it.

Knowing that she had done a good thing, the chill she felt seconds ago was rapidly leaving, replaced by the feeling she always got when she had done something selfless. James always told her it was a character flaw, that bad things happen to good people. She wondered who he knew, since she never witnessed him do anything good, unless it benefited himself.

"You're an honest woman, Ms...?"

"Swan, Bella Swan." She responded, still marginally out of breath, but with her smile still in place.

"Well, Bella, my name is Carlisle Cullen and I believe in rewarding people when it's warranted." His smile was genuine or at least he hoped it was. With this young woman causing him to lose a bet, the stakes were about to be raised.

"If you ever need any help, any at all, you call this number." Carlisle handed her a crisp business card with Cullen Enterprises scrolled elegantly across the top in gold letters. Bella was no stranger to the name, she read it nearly every week in one of the newspapers left behind in the bakery. She was bubbling inside at the thought that she had just shown a kindness to a man who had done so much for the city, and the country for that matter.

"Thank you, Mr. Cullen, but kindness shouldn't be rewarded, it should be given freely." Her voice was cheerful and sure.

Carlisle wrapped his gloved hands around her bare and purple turning fingers, the card now bending in her palm. "I reward kindness. Again, call me if you ever need anything."

Charlie took in the conversation, knowing his brother well enough that his action were a sure sign that his temper was building. He decided to save the poor girl and captured his brother's attention. "Carlisle we have a meeting that began five minutes ago."

Carlisle dropped Bella's hand and thanked her again. She responded with 'you're welcome', then turned and walked briskly back to the bakery.

Carlisle watched, his mind formulating a new plan of action. This girl, this Bella Swan, cost him a loss to his brother. If there's one thing that he couldn't stand, it's to lose to anyone. Ignoring his better judgment, he pressed a few buttons on his cell, not waiting on the person on the other side to answer properly.

"Jenks, get me everything you can find on a Bella Swan. She works for the girls and I want it in my office by this afternoon." He didn't wait for an answer, he closed the phone and turned to join his brother and the pair made their way down the busy sidewalk.